Reinventing Idol: An Interview with ‘American Idol’ Alum Crystal Bowersox - January 27, 2012

Live at Santa Fe Sol, Jan. 28

 “We should play him a new song,” Crystal Bowersox says to Jono Manson at the conclusion of our short interview. Bowersox, 26, is an easygoing and direct singer-songwriter, who is known across the planet for her participation in American Idol. That she came in second place of the competition in 2010 is of little consequence. She landed a record deal, released an album ("Farmer’s Daughter"), toured and made enough scratch to support herself and her son with her voice: a declarative and soulful object that pierces the atmosphere effortless with motions.

“Let’s play 'Sunshine,' ” she continues.  Manson picks up his guitar and begins to noodle chords, while Bowersox tunes her Takamine acoustic. The song begins. It navigates, lifts and crowns with Bowersox’s enormous control, filling the room with the kind of voice one is rarely privy to be in close proximity. To say that she can sing is the minimum of what you might expect from the glossy stage of a former American Idol. 

Bowersox is in Santa Fe to write songs with Manson. The pair met at the 2011 SXSW Music Conference in Austin, through their mutual friend John Popper. Although the project is still in its early stages, the song “Sunshine,” was written and arranged within 24 hours since her arrival, and another eight songs have been broadly sketched. Her visit will be capped off with a show at Santa Fe Sol on January 28. Tell me a little about this about this project.

Bowersox: We were writing through the wire, emailing songs ideas back and forth and we got some good songs that way, but I needed to actually be here. I needed to exchange ideas more qickly than email, and I’m glad I did and we have two songs down now.   

SFDC: How does the writing process work?

Bowersox: We have the starts or little ideas on my phone, and then we just start talking about the idea. Eventually, I pick up the guitar and start playing a tune. And if it works, the words come.

Manson: We’ve only just started playing together, so nothing is quite set. One of us isn’t the lyricist and the other is the music person, we are just going back and forth. So far it’s been a very productive exchange of ideas. 

Bowersox: Our writing styles are pretty similar. My words tend to be a little simpler and that’s where Jono really helps. I’m 26 and Jono is 50, he knows about more things, so he brings some things into the lyrics that I couldn’t possible do.

Manson: But on the other hand, on the song “Sunshine,” we needed something for the chorus, which was an essential yet simple thing. Her idea for it was totally the right thing. 

Bowersox: Sometimes when you’re in the songwriting zone, you’re trying to think of the right thing or thinking about it too much. You forget that sometimes simple is ok.  

SFDC: Let’s compare and contrast a little bit from your album "Farmer’s Daughter."

Bowersox: Coming off of American Idol, everything is shiny and new. When I came off the show, they had 13 songs waiting for me. They said cut these and be done with it, and I stood up to that. I had my own material. But I’m proud of "Farmer’s Daughter."

SFDC: How much of your personality is in that album?

Bowersox: It’s there. Those are still my songs. There was a little push and pull from the label wanting one thing and me wanting something and everything in between.

Before American Idol, you were obviously making music. In a way you did it backwards. The fame came upfront and now you are stepping back and deconstructing yourself?

Bowersox: I need to be comfortable. I don’t like the idea of putting myself above anyone.  I just work here. I’m trying to be myself and do what’s comfortable.

SFDC: Do you want to vanquish the American Idol association?

Bowersox: I’ve bit the hand that fed me. I’ve said things about Idol because I wasn’t a fan before and it’s not something that I wanted to do. I did it for my son. I did it to change my life. It did exactly what I wanted it to do, and I’m grateful for it. I’m an American Idol. Those are words that have to come out of my mouth and it is what it is. It happened. It’s true.

Manson: For better or worse, there are many great things that have come out of your experience with that. The story cannot be told without that chapter.

SFDC: So let’s just jump back to the now. What are you doing in Santa Fe?

Bowersox: I am here on a spiritual journey; a quest for insight (laughs). No really. I’m here to write music with Jono and feel all the good vibes that Santa Fe has to offer. I’ve never been to place quite like this.

SFDC: As far as the direction of the work, what kind of songs are you building?

Bowersox: I’m trying to write songs that make people feel good. I’ve had a few different writing sessions with people., but none of them have been as productive as this and I’ve only been here for 24 hours. When you find some one who you can connect with and there’s no ego involved, that’s a hard thing to find…someone you can work with like that and genuinely feel the music. 

Crystal Bowersox and Jono Manson in Concert
Santa Fe Sol
37 Fire Place Rd, Santa Fe, NM
Doors open at 7 p.m.
$15.00 - All ages admitted
Advance tickets: